Although ban on imports has been lifted up, but heavy regulatory duties have added to the challenges faced by importers. Importers have refused to pay additional regulatory duties imposed by the Federal Board of Revenue from Rs20,000 to Rs95,000 per ton of foodstuff, and hundreds of trucks and containers full of fresh and dry fruits are returning to Kabul.
According to importers at the Torkham border, arrival of fresh and dry fruits from Afghanistan had dropped by over 70 percent after a 49 percent regulatory charge was imposed on them. They also claimed that increased duty had raised the prices of Afghan grapes and apples in the domestic market. Importers anticipated that if the regulatory duty was not removed or decreased immediately, those items would disappear from local markets.
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Before the imposition of regulatory duty, over 200 trucks and containers of fresh and dry fruits used to arrive in Pakistan via the Torkham border on daily basis. However, the number has fallen to less than 50 as truckers prefer to return and save fresh fruits from rotting and fearing sudden increase in custom duties.
Zahidullah Shinwari, former president of Sarhad Chambers of Commerce and Industry, resented the ‘unilateral’ imposition of regulatory duty on dry and fresh fruits, saying the move was very surprising in the current situation when the country is facing food shortages due to massive flooding.
Mr Shinwari stated that it was time to lower customs duties on food imported from Afghanistan to the lowest possible level, both as a goodwill gesture and due to the increased domestic demand for all types of edible items following floods.
He also expressed his fear of retaliation from Afghanistan in case the regulatory duty is not withdrawn. In the coming winter, Afghanistan would also impose additional and hefty duties on numerous Pakistani export items, mainly fresh fruits.
Haji Jabir, a Khyber Chamber of Commerce official, claimed that the imposition of regulatory duty went against repeated official commitments to increase the country’s trade with Afghanistan. He emphasized that the local business sector had supported for greater ease in the country’s trade with Afghanistan and with other neighbors in general, in order to enhance exports and revenue.
He stated that any delay in the removal of the new regulatory duty would not only result in substantial losses for local importers but there would be significant decrease in shipments to Afghanistan also.
Such ‘ill-conceived’ trade policies, according to the chamber leader, would only help Afghanistan’s neighbors to embrace the chance to grab the Afghan market.